Treatment Options for Chronic & Short-Term Pain Management

Updated on January 3, 2020

Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

Do you wake up in the morning with achy, stiff joints or is your pain the type that creeps up on you mid-day? Chronic pain affects around 50 million Americans each year – this doesn’t even include those that suffer from the occasional or random head or backache. With this said, you are likely searching for a way to ease your pain and improve your overall quality of life. 

We’re going to look into several treatment options for people who live with chronic pain or who simply want to learn about all pain management alternatives. We will cover over-the-counter medicines, cannabis-based medications like this, other forms of topical relief, prescribed pain relievers, and ways you can reduce pain without medicine. 

Over-The-Counter Medicines

Of course, you are likely familiar with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. However, they are not all created the same nor do they serve the same purpose. Knowing the types of medications and what they do can help you make better judgments on what OTC medicine to take.

Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol but can be found in numerous name-brand products and generic options. It is most often used as a pain-reliever and to help reduce fever. 

Ibuprofen is another common active ingredient in OTC medicines such as Advil or Motrin. This ingredient is considered an NSAID which is short for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is another word for swelling so the idea of these types of drugs is to help reduce the swelling and aggravation that leads to pain. 

Naproxen is also considered an NSAID but is generally better suited for the treatment of long-term or chronic pain. Most typically, the brand name associated with Naproxen is Aleve. The biggest differences between these two drugs include the fact that ibuprofen can be given to children and that naproxen is generally longer-lasting which leads to fewer doses. 

Finally, there is aspirin. Aspirin is another NSAID but can also be used as a blood thinner. This is especially important if you are dealing with tension or migraine headaches as it can help dilate your blood vessels and return some of the blood flow to your head. Because of its blood-thinning properties, it is also used to help prevent heart attacks. 

When dealing with pain, it can be tempting to double dose yourself to increase effectiveness. Unfortunately, doing so just puts you at risk for liver damage or stomach ulcers. Instead, opt to take a dose of an NSAID, wait 3-4 hours, and then take a dose of acetaminophen. 

Doing this will help reduce any adverse side effects and because the two medications work differently, you may experience a better sense of pain relief. 

Cannabis-Based Medications

Many people assume that the use of cannabis is simply to get high. This is actually far from the case with cannabis-based medications (CBMs.) While there are CMBs that contain both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD,) for the purpose of this article we will include only CBD products. 

Research is proving to be favorable in providing facts that CBD binds with the body’s endocannabinoid system. In laymen’s terms, cannabidiol and other CBMs are showing to be promising in the treatment of pain due to anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. 

Depending on your need, it is possible to take CBD sublingually (under the tongue), eat snacks infused with the oil, or use it topically for local spot treatment of painful areas. Opting to take CBD sublingually will mean faster relief as it won’t be subjected to your digestive tract.

If you choose to use a topical ointment or gel, look for a highly concentrated product and apply it liberally. This will help you receive the relief you need at a quicker pace. 

Other Topical Treatments

Photo by Pharma Hemp Complex on Unsplash

If you are suffering from muscle, bone, or joint pain, choosing to incorporate a topical treatment may give you some relief. Of course, as mentioned, there are CBD ointments and gels, but there are also other options to choose from.

Creams and gels may contain ingredients like menthol or evergreen oil as counterirritants. These are generally made to distract the brain from the actual pain and instead feel like the medication is ‘cooling’ the area. 

Capsaicin is the active component of peppers and is also great for diabetic nerve pain and joint problems. When applied to the skin, it will likely give you a small burning or tingling sensation – similar to the idea of counterirritants. This treatment can be used short or long-term but many people find that with continued daily use, their pain levels improve. 

Some creams or rubs contain salicylates. Salicylate is one of the main compounds found in aspirin that gives it pain-relieving qualities. This ingredient will absorb through the skin but is often best used for joints that are relatively close to the skin. Ideally, these creams or lotions are used for the elbows, knees, fingers, or wrists but may be used almost anywhere safely. 

Aside from creams, rubs, and gels, you may also opt to use cold or heat therapy on a particularly painful bone, joint, or muscle. 

Most doctors will advise you to use ice within the first 48 hours of an injury as it reduces swelling and pain by decreasing blood flow to the area. A cold compress also acts as a local analgesic but be sure not to apply ice directly to your skin. 

Heat therapy may be used to help improve blood flow to an area by dilating blood vessels and helping muscles relax. 

Your doctor may recommend that you rotate between cold and heat therapies when there is muscle soreness that is related to an injury or overextension during an activity or workout. 

Seeking Medical Advice

Ideally, using the above tips to manage your pain will help you avoid the need for prescription pain relievers. However, if you find that your pain continues or becomes worse, stepping up your treatment may be your only option. 

Most doctors will try to avoid prescribing heavy narcotics and instead will offer higher prescription doses of over-the-counter medicines. Depending on the type of pain you are dealing with, these prescriptions will be combined with a low dose of a narcotic to maximize the effectiveness. 

Additionally, they may suggest stretches or physical therapy to help increase your stamina and rebuild any damaged muscles or tissues. The key to your pain management is going to be following any instructions carefully, listening to doctors’ orders, and being proactive in your treatment.

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